The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Bust of Madame de Sérilly
  • Jean Antoine Houdon (1741 - 1828)
  • Bust of Madame de Sérilly
  • France
  • 1782
  • Bust
  • Marble
  • Height: 62 cm
  • Signature: HOUDON, F. 1782.
  • S26
  • Dining Room
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • This portrait of Madame Anne-Marie-Louise Mégret de Sérilly was signed and dated by Jean-Antoine Houdon, the leading portrait artist of his time, in 1782.

    Born into a humble family, Houdon manifested great artistic talent from a young age. He won the opportunity to train at the French Academy in Rome where he was from 1764 to 1768. Here he studied anatomy on dissected bodies (a practice that gave him a superior anatomical knowledge that would prove invaluable in his work, particularly as a portrait artist) and absorbed the lesson of classical sculpture which would strongly influence him throughout his career.

    Houdon was happy to work for the art market and produced copies and variants of his most successful models, often in different materials. It is therefore not surprising that three versions of this bust exist: the others are today in Chicago and Minneapolis.

    Born in 1762, Anne-Marie-Louise Thomas de Pange de Domangeville belonged to a family which had only recently been ennobled. However, no expense was spared in her education in order to equip her with all the skills and knowledge deemed necessary for a lady of the high society.

    In 1779, she married Antoine-Jean-François Mégret de Sérilly, who held an important office at court. Her life was marked by extremely dramatic events: her husband went bankrupt in 1788 and the family had to move outside of Paris. After the Revolution, in 1794, she was arrested with her husband and brother with the accusation of having conspired to assist the escape attempt of Louis XVI the previous year. Only the claim that she was pregnant spared her the execution, allowing her to take advantage of the fall of Robespierre and the end of the Terror shortly after. After her escape from prison, she tried to reclaim possession of the wealth once belonging to her late husband and married again twice without luck: both her husbands died of illness shortly after the marriage and she herself contracted smallpox in 1799 dying aged just thirty-seven.

    When the bust was made, Mme de Sérilly was only nineteen and at the height of her famed beauty here enhanced by the turn of the head and the sensuous lock of hair falling on her bare skin. Always attentive to the psychological characterisation of his sitters, Houdon does not fail to also convey the personality of Mme de Sérilly: her intent gaze suggests a woman of intelligence, clearly aware of her beauty and status.

    Houdon was one of the sculptors Lord Hertford most appreciated as he owned no less than seven works by him, although only two today remain in our collection (see also S25, Portrait of Mme Victoire de France).